by Stephen M. Saideman
I am quoted today by one of my very favorite Canadian journalists, Murray Brewster, as saying that the discussion of the Iraq mission is going to “lead to dumb politics.” I am not sure my meaning came across, so let me explain.
The story is how one of two Canadian intel gathering planes–the Auroras–is being withdrawn from Iraq. The story is being presented by Murray and others as a “quiet” move by the Liberal government. This is really a nothing-burger of a story. The CAF have deployed these two planes for 2.5 years or so, and they have been most useful in identifying targets for the air strikes and perhaps the ground campaign. Canada will keep operating the other Aurora and a refueling plane. The Liberal government updated the website that shows what Canada has in this fight, so it is not hiding it. It just ain’t out trumpeting it either. Given all of the other stuff going on–NAFTA at risk, Boeing vs. Bombardier over subsidies, Trump’s impact on Canada and on NATO, North Korea, Manchester–this really is not much of a story.
However, it feeds the bad politics machine. The Conservatives, who have done their fair share of cutting and running from major allied efforts (leaving Kandahar in 2011, withdrawing from the NATO AWACS program, etc), now have some fodder that goes with the storyline that the Liberals don’t want to do the Iraq mission and are weaseling out.
My line about bad politics was really about the next THING. That is, the battle over Mosul is almost over, and the Kurds will have far fewer battles to fight. So, what will the Canadian Special Operations Forces be doing in Iraq next? Probably nothing, as others have lined up for the next Iraq fight. Unless Canada wants to deploy the 200 or so SOF into Syria, a super-complicated place, they can either sit on their hands or come home. I vote for coming home. The S in SOF means special, which almost always implies few or small. Which means that these guys tend to operate at a high tempo–they go over someplace to do something, come home, go back, come home, go back, etc. This pace of effort is hard to sustain and very hard to sustain their sharp edge if they are operating all of the time with little respite. The best thing for Canadian Special Operations would be to bring these folks home, let them rest, spend time with their families, train and exercise for the next missions whatever they might be.
But what is likely to happen is either the Liberal government will keep them there so that they don’t get accused of running out on the mission or they pull them and then the Conservatives accuse them of running out of the mission. And this is dumb. It avoids all of the important questions but allows the opposition to accuse the government of being weak. The important questions here include:
- If we continue to operate in Iraq, will we be complicit with Iraqi/Iranian war crimes? Does our presence make such war crimes more or less likely?
- Winning in Iraq does not mean ISIS is defeated, so what is next?
- Hint: Syria. What can/should Canada do in Syria?
- Should Canada return to Afghanistan?
Of course, the super-big question is this: will Canada’s political system, including its media, always remain focused on distraction sauce rather than addressing more important issues? In my book, I give much credit to Murray and other reporters for risking their lives and doing really hard work to get the Afghanistan story right. But I castigated the media and the parties that focused on the story that allowed them to accuse each other of being war criminals or fellow travelers of the Taliban–detainees. Which, sorry, is tertiary to the larger issues of how to work with a corrupt government, and whether tying one’s efforts to a checklist rather than to…. winning made much sense.
Anyhow, with the next “debate” about what to do in Iraq coming up, all I could see is dumb.